Olympic visa scandal surfaces in Pakistan
24 July, 2012
LAHORE: A visa scam giving potential terrorists the chance to sneak into Britain with Pakistan's Olympic team has been smashed by The Sun. The paper claims it infiltrated a crime ring offering false passports, visas – and access to Olympics as bogus support staff.
"We uncovered a ring of corrupt Pakistani officials and travel staff conspiring with a prominent politician to bypass stringent security," it claims. Then a leading politician from Lahore, Abid Chaudhry, spelled out how for around 7,000 pounds he could get the newspaper's undercover investigator a two-month visa – and smuggle him into London as part of Pakistan's Olympic squad.
The Sun secretly filmed Chaudhry as he explained how easy it was to get into the Olympic Village by masquerading as a member of the athletes' support team.
This sparked an investigation after the paper alerted MI6, the British Home Office, the UK Border Agency and the British High Commission in Islamabad.
The newspaper states that its investigation centred on the Lahore-based Dream Land travel agency — prosecuted nine years ago for human trafficking. It approached one of the agency's staff and a meeting was arranged in Lahore with a fixer called Bobby.
Bobby bragged that for Pakistani equivalent of 600 pounds he could get them dodgy travel documents. He then took the undercover agent to NADRA, and gave him the identity of a man – Muhammad Ali – who had either died or his passport and ID card had expired.
During the process, the paper reported, it became clear up to 12 people were in on the scam at NADRA. The new documents were also rubber stamped by a leading official. But after the paperwork was sent on to Islamabad, Bobby alerted there was a problem that the Islamabad officials said The Sun agent's photo didn't match that of the real man on the database. So another photo shoot was arranged, after which Bobby said the passport was ready.
When Bobby was asked by the agent if they could have another passport made for an Ali Atwa – the name of a fanatic on the FBI's Most Wanted list, he said anything was possible for the right money, The Sun reported.
The paper said racketeers told them they planned to use the Pakistan Olympic team's arrival in London as a possible means of smuggling people into Britain. This followed a meeting with Chaudhry, who has links to the Pakistan Sports Board. He said it would cost Rs 150,000 for an official letter mentioning the agents as part of the squad. And the total cost of the letter and a visa for two months would be Rs 1 million.
The Sun said it's been told dodgy travel agency staff work hand-in-hand with corrupt officials across many levels of the Pakistan government. Some are alleged to be involved in the stamping of visas at the British Embassy in Islamabad.
In the wake of The Sun's findings, the authorities are attempting to discover how many rogue travellers have already sneaked into the UK. It said its agents were told the names of individuals currently living in London after buying dodgy documents in Pakistan.
The British Home Office praised The Sun's investigation, saying, "We thank The Sun for highlighting this attempted abuse and will be handing the evidence straight over to the Pakistani authorities."
Pakistan, UK swing into action
Twelve NADRA personnel, including the Lahore GM, have been suspended following a report in Britain's The Sun newspaper that claimed to have revealed a fake Pakistani passport and visa ring. The revelation sparked frenzy among both Pakistani and British authorities.
Pakistan government on Monday formed a special investigation team to probe the newspaper's reports, while the British intelligence agency MI6, UK Border Agency and British High Commission Islamabad have also started investigation into the alleged scandal. All suspended NADRA officials are from its Lahore office, and Interior Adviser Rehman Malik said their names had been placed on the ECL. He also formed a joint investigation team, headed by the FIA DG, and asked it to complete the probe in three days and arrest those responsible.
The team includes officials from NADRA, ISI, IB and FIA. A massive investigation within NADRA and the passport office will also be conducted on the reports. NADRA Chairman Tariq Malik told our sources their six men and two women had been suspended and would be prosecuted if found guilty. He said all angles of the scandal would be investigated. The Pakistan High Commission in London clarified in a statement it was not involved in the matter.
Moreover, Pakistan Olympics Association President Lt Gen (r) Arif Hassan said documents of the Pakistani squad were prepared through proper procedure and there was no possibility of procurement of fake accreditation.